Monday, December 31, 2012

December Hits (Recent Popular Posts)

Foto de la Semana

Ring in the new year! Out with the old, and in with the new! Galaxie poses victorious (and spectacular) over Epidemio in a lucha libre event at Arena Naucalpan this past November 29th. Feliz año nuevo, mis amigos y hermanos.

2013 Resolutions

This past year I surprised myself and basically kept my resolution: to go to live pro wrestling events of a convenient distance from where I live. I went by myself sometimes and at other times with friends (straight, bi, lesbian, but not a single other gay guy). I enjoyed the live spectacle even more than I had imagined I would. I saw several shows by the local, Raleigh-based promotion called GOUGE, whose show last December was the first ever show I attended live. In my hometown Durham, I saw the ¡Luchadoras! a multi-ethnic all-female lucha libre show. I ventured a little further out and saw shows with bigger names by Dragon Gate/Evolve, Ring of Honor, Chikara, and even, just last night, WWE. And a wrestling high point of the year was going up to Philadelphia for a weekend to watch UCW-Wrestling matches being taped and meet Bodyslam, Axel, Twisted Torment, Joker, Angel Estrada, Corporal Punishment, Aron, and Eli Black in the flesh (see here, here, and here).

For 2013 I have only one resolution relating to wrestling: to continue going to live shows as time, money, geography, and meteorology permit. That resolution is demonstrably in my power to keep or break. I already know that shows, small shows and big shows, do occur in the vicinity. What I would like 2013 to bring is a friend who wrestles--pro, folk, underground, MMA, backyard, or basement, the style does not matter. My goal is not to find somebody to wrestle me. Although I keep myself in fairly good health, I do not keep myself in good enough shape to compete. But it would be nice to find somebody who not only shares my sense of humor or interest in French films or left-wing politics but also takes wrestling seriously, acknowledges its sensuality, and can deepen my knowledge and appreciation of the sport and the spectacle.

Tomorrow I will be posting resolutions of friends of this blog. Beginning at the crack of midnight (a Dickensian touch), expect a new visitor every half-hour, sharing his goals, hopes, or fantasies in a separate post. I will be listing the resolutions in the order they arrived here at Ringside at Skull Island. Expect a few surprises. (But how does one expect a surprise? That, I philosophize, is the secret to a happy life.)

Sunday, December 30, 2012


I went to my first WWE show tonight in Raleigh, just a year and a couple of weeks after attending my first live wrestling match of any kind. I enjoyed it because I went with supportive and fun-loving friends and because I got to be within twenty feet of some of the wrestlers I have long adored--Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler, and Zack Ryder--and saw a few others in action I was curious about--David Otunga, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, and Cody Rhodes. On the whole, though, I am mostly thankful that this was not the first live wrestling show I ever saw because I have no interest in seeing another WWE event ever, and probably if I had seen this first, I would have been convinced--since supposedly WWE is the top of the heap--that live wrestling was just not worth the gas money to get to the show, much less the (high) cost of the entrance ticket. Happily I now know there's much more satisfying live wrestling to be seen, three times the creativity and excitement at one tenth the cost, so my interest in the sport is undiminished. But, despite a few high points, of all the live shows I have seen over the past 13 months, this one was definitely the weakest.

I did come to realize a few things about wrestling entertainment. One, the kind of intense mat work that appeals to me and which awakened my interest in TV wrestling back in the 1970s is all but nonexistent in WWE mainly because its gestures are not exaggerated enough to catch and hold the attention of a hockey stadium audience. The grunt work of a scissors hold or a figure-four leglock would be lost at the 188th row. Therefore, everything in WWE is broad and hammy, like miming clowns at the circus. Daniel Bryan, whom I've seen perform beautiful and intricate submission holds in the past, as complicated as Chantilly lace, was reduced to stooging for the cheap seats. Yet even with third row seats and TV monitors amplifying the action overhead, I missed most of the details of the fights. So it might have been worse had the wrestlers performed actual wrestling moves, instead of handsprings and kabuki-like grimaces that can be read hundreds of feet away.

On a similar note, I realized that the wrestlers must have catch phrases because it's impossible to make out what they are saying, even when they are miked, so it's all for the best that everything they are likely to say is already printed on the T-shirts you bought at the merchandise booths. The communication between the audience and the wrestlers and refs was reduced to a form of toggling. A wrestler would say something, which would then prompt a predictable chant or outcry from the crowd. In an earlier draft of this post I questioned the intelligence of the assembled fans. I probably still do question that intelligence, but it was perhaps an unkind thing to put into print. The WWE audience's articulations were clipped and packaged (similarly, in post-literate America many people's treasured values, positions, and even life philosophies can fit, in their entirety, on a typical bumper sticker). The crowds at previously attended, small-venue shows were the Algonquin Round Table by comparison. In the same vein, I was also bothered by the constant appeal to us audience members to go online on our smart phones to give feedback on this, that, or the other--when Ryder handily defeated Tensai, Vickie Guerrero urged us fans to tweet which Christmas song the loser would have to sing: "Jingle Bells" or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." (The majority wanted "Rudolph.") That--and the fact that the streaming videos presented rapidly edited versions of the stars performing moves better than they were performing them live--gave the whole show a robotic, production-line feel.

Because security would not let me bring my good camera with a detachable lens into the stadium, I had to use my five-year-old iPhone instead, so I did not even get good shots of Rollins, Ziggler, and Ryder, just a bunch of over-exposed and smeared images that do little more than prove that I was actually there. (See the representative examples below.) I was hoping to get at least one good shot of Seth Rollins' shoulders or Dolph Ziggler's thighs. Disappointing. The beer and pretzels were tasty--that much was not disappointing. The full-color glossy program I bought has pictures of Kofi Kingston, Antonio Cesaro, and Ted DiBiase (none of them on tonight's card) that I figure I can masturbate to later tonight. Yet, honestly, I'm happy to have felt a little of the heat my favorite wrestlers were able to generate despite being hamstrung by severely limiting formulae which have typified "WWE product" for decades now. Given that I had low expectations of WWE, any falling short of those low expectations is something of a catastrophe. Overall, WWE offered the wrestling equivalent of McNuggets, while charging coq au vin prices. Never before had I felt convinced that, as some acquaintances have said to my face, wrestling is an interest suitable only for eight year olds. It's certainly true of WWE's RAW Holiday Tour, anyway.

Overdressed, Seth Rollins gesticulates madly on the ring apron while his partners  Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns and he battle Daniel Bryan, Kane, and Ryback. (Still, even overdressed, with bad hair, and WWE's humiliating waste of his talents, Seth exudes unmistakable hotness.)

WWE Raw's Ginza-like centerpience, one part Blade Runner and one part Pedro's South of the Border on I-95

Cody Rhodes looking squeezable while partner Damien Sandow attempts a showdown with either Jesse James or Billy Gunn.

Dolph Ziggler and John Cena battle it out atop the steel cage in the main event, the most engrossing match of the evening.

415 vs 368

An inveterate list-maker myself, it's no surprise that I'm drawn every summer to Pro Wrestling Illustrated's annual "PWI 500," in which the magazine ranks the 500 best wrestlers worldwide based on win-loss record, technical ability, influence on the sport, success against the highest grade of competition, success against the most diverse competition, and activity, meaning number of bookings (this appears to work mainly negatively, eliminating, for obvious reasons, wrestlers who had not been booked in the previous 12 months). This year the top spot went, deservedly, I think, to CM Punk, with Bobby Roode, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Sheamus, Jun Akiyama, Davey Richards, Kurt Angle, Mark Henry, and Alberto Del Rio filling out the Top 10 spots.

Whereas my lists on Ringside at Skull Island reflect my individual tastes and kinks and limited access to wrestling events, PWI's list is the product of a committee, ensuring a certain degree of objectivity, while favoring major promotions and reflecting the common denominator of a number of different sportswriters specializing in pro wrestling. There's also a generally fair representation of varying promotions, body types, ethnicities, and wrestling styles. The wrestlers I'm mainly interested in usually appear in the bottom half of PWI's list, working independently or on the rosters of small promotions, with less television exposure and often with shorter histories in the ring, thus seen by fewer writers. For example, Seth Rollins (aka Tyler Black) ranked at number 46 (a coupe for the rising NXT star), Adam Cole at 75, El Generico at 82, Caprice Coleman at 159, Kota Ibushi at 183, Ricochet at 226, Jigsaw at 277, Pepper Parks at 299, Josh Daniels at 339, Drew Gulak at 345, Timothy Thatcher at 393, Steven Walters at 424, and Dave Dutra at 472.

The Fight! 6 show in Toronto last month featured a match between two wrestlers of interest to me: Psycho Mike Rollins (ranked 415 in 2012's "PWI 500") and RJ City (ranked higher up at 368). I haven't seen the match, but Tabercil's photos convey a sense of the fight's flavor. RJ approaches Mike with contempt, exuding his slick brand of arrogance. Mike responds with batshit crazy energy and wins the night. PWI called City a "triple threat," as a wrestler, actor, and would-be singer--he has held the Great Canadian Wrestling National Championship longer than anyone in the title's history and stars in a Canadian revamp of American Gladiators aimed at the Nickelodeon set and taking advantage of the current popularity of all things medieval and wizard-y. PWI compares Rollins to Goldberg, noting his "intensity and high-octane approach." Both wrestlers are big men, topping six feet and 200 pounds, in other words two big bodies that pack a lot of juicy bump.

An angle I like more than I care to admit (being a college English instructor and a purveyor of classical reasoning and high culture) is the victory of the wild over the effete. For me one of the more potent draws of pro wrestling narrative is the sweaty and unscrubbed babyface who dismantles a posh and affected heel who has entered the ring reeking of Dior Homme. Honestly I can't tell whether this reveals my self-loathing as a homosexual, preferring butch crassness over high metrosexual style, or finely hewn class consciousness, having been raised in trailer parks and on military bases (my friend Elizabeth tells me this is a redundancy--its being quite enough to say I grew up in government housing to establish my credentials as poor white trash). At any rate, the scenario casts a spell on me. I always want the low-rent upstart to rip the fancy sophisticate a new asshole, which is pretty much what happens here in City-vs-Rollins. And naturally it doesn't hurt that both men are strong, beefy, and very hot.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Just Wait Till I Get My Hands on You ...!

In the real world the forces of darkness are glum, a little dense, and over-impressed with themselves. Five-time CRW junior heavyweight champion Leon Saver is here to rub these guys out, and the fans love him. I love him. Here he cuts Bret Hart wannabe Pitbull Brando down to size. Both these guys are tough fighters. Pitbull's hungry and ready to mix it up with the champ. Leon, elegant in his regulation copstash and curly hair, wriggles all over the guy. It's a little like watching an electric eel zapping a hammerhead shark, one inch at a time, until the big brute's exhausted and the dashing champ with his heart in the right place can fold him up into a small, tight package and then march him out of town. As always, Leon balances agility and toughness, much like Stupefied, aka Player Dos of the Super Smash Bros, whom he vaguely resembles, in my opinion. (Saver versus fellow Quebecois Stupefied is one fight I would love to see.) Huge thanks to Gary, another Saver fan, for telling me about this match.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Say Uncle!

I probably like all styles of wrestling to varying degrees, depending on mood and circumstances. Although sumo, royal rumble, featherweight, and high-flying acrobatic styles typically rank fairly low with me, other factors do often enter the equation and influence my way of thinking about an individual contest, judged on a case by case basis. For me the consistently best, most evocative and most engrossing wrestling is still what I frequently refer to as grunt-n-groan wrestling, finely illustrated in this FWE match from July, pitting local hero Harry Smith, 6'5", 250#, son of the late great Davey Boy Smith, against carpetbagging heel Mike Bennett, 6'1", 220#.

These two men represent the essentials of the grunt-and-groan style--big, swaggering, hot-tempered bruisers with bossy construction-worker guts, a propensity for heavy sweating, and steel-beam shoulders. It's also good that the babyface is a sentimental favorite--son of a legend or a well-liked wrestling promoter (or, conversely, the heel can be the black sheep son of a veteran). Usually the match has the good guy suffering under a physical handicap of some sort so that the announcer can comment on the wrestler's performing a move well, as here, "even with a damaged leg." Very high marks go also to the announcer opining that Harry is capable of killing a man with his bare hands.

Grunt-and-groaner introductions have to include an announcement of each wrestler's weight, just to give heft and bulk their proper respect, but all the preliminaries, including entrances and mouthing off on the microphone, need to comprise no more than 25% of the bout, preferably far far less. At least 25% of the bout needs to happen on the mat, not in the air, not upright on their feet, but knotted and scissored together in a strenuous effort to wring, crush, and stretch each other. In there somewhere, I want at least one instance (preferably more than one) of a wrestler in agony, straining to grasp the ropes and force the release. I like two (though right now I'm thinking three) solid and prolonged instances where the two men are pressed up to the ropes, navel to navel. If that's too much to ask for, then I want the cowardly heel to flee the ring and the babyface to haul him back in by the seat of his britches and a hank of hair. At some point, the heel needs to make a show of sportsmanship and good will, or of even abject submission, only to turn it into a cheap shot. And it all needs to wrap up with a clean, decisive finish, preferably by 3-count after a suitably frustrating string of 2-counts.


I arrived home in the wee hours of this morning, having spent the past seven days exploring night life and alien landscapes in Iceland. It was a Christmas vacation with my friends Shane and Barbara, and I went fully expecting the trip to be blog-free and wrestling-free. As it turns out, it is possible to have good times without thinking about wrestling--or dissecting every thought and feeling about it on the Internet--just unusual. And even with that expectation in mind, I happened upon a statue of two wrestling men (first three photos, above) outside the Hotel Geysir in Haukadalur, while visiting the geysers there (we get the word "geyser" from the Icelandic language, by the way). Not only that but the dining room of the hotel (photos 4-11) had a wrestling theme, with a championship belt (introduced in 1906) and vintage photographs behind protective glass and a giant modernist sculpture of two men locking up collar and elbow that loomed over the tables (decorated with Santa caps for the season). Then on Christmas Day, back in Reykjavik, we had dinner at the Hotel Borg, and right next to the main lobby and its Christmas tree were display cases containing even more wrestling memorabilia (photos 12-14).

Glima is Icelandic for wrestling, and it's also the word for a distinctive folk style of wrestling belonging to the Norsemen and Vikings. The thunder god Thor was reputed to be a great wrestler--unconquerable until he unwittingly challenged the personification of Old Age and lost (I identify). Two styles of glima emerged: one was a fight to the death, in which the victor grappled his opponent to the ground and killed him without a weapon (you literary types might remember that Beowulf insisted on defeating Grendel without a weapon or any outside assistance, using only his bare hands), the other type was for fun, but still reportedly involved mortal risk. Most of the wrestling occurs while standing, with both wrestlers following set steps, almost like dancing. Both men and women competed. In all styles, the winner is the last fighter standing, triumphant over his (or her) prostrate opponent. In the Summer Olympics of 1912 in Sweden, a demonstration of traditional glima was featured as part of the celebration, though the sport is seldom practiced anymore, even in Iceland. The International Glima Association (IGA) apparently still exists to promote the sport to us moderns.


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